I stole an hour from my usual routine yesterday and dropped in to the Kunsthaus for an hour. Ignoring the exhibitions I headed for the museum’s permanent collection and, to my delight, three of my favourite rooms were completely empty. What a way to spend a leisurely hour.
I love this large room, lit by natural light coming through the glass ceiling. The room itself is a work of art, with its original Jugendstil decorations. Even the sofas look like works of art, but they are for sitting on. The paintings on both walls, surrounding a statue from Rodin, are all from Edvard Munch. This is, I believe, the largest public collection of Munch paintings outside of Norway.
These works, like Russian dolls, carry within them many shapes and hidden messages. Sometimes a particular painting has something of Cezanne and the Cubists, but at another viewing Derain and the Fauvists suddenly appear. Perhaps it is characteristic of Munch, perhaps it is the light, or the room, or simply a change in my mood, but the paintings are never quiet stable, and so I return to them often.
Munch is not my favourite artist. His paintings are filled with his own angst, his self-obsessions, his own particular sufferings. Munch’s famous attempt at suicide is ridiculously comic – he shot himself in his fingertip. This gave him fodder for years and years of self-indulgent whining. Such histrionics. His most famous painting, “The Scream” is partly horrifying but mainly just silly. It’s no wonder that Munch appeals to tattooed, tormented teenagers dressed in black. One only hopes they’ll grow out of it.
Edvard Munch, Portrait of Albert Kollman, 1943-'44
And yet, for all that, he was a gifted painter and even, to a limited extent, a visionary. I try to forget his ludicrously self-pitying personality, and focus on the paintings themselves, especially in this beautifully calm setting.
The second room is not really a room at all, but a passage between two rooms. Again, the ceiling and walls are decorated in Jugendstil fashion. On either side of the doorway are two tall and narrow Japanesque paintings by Bonnard. They come from his Nabis period. The colours are intense, created with tiny brush strokes, and radiate a sense of calm beauty. The doorway frames the Degas painting of a bather, hung on a golden wall. All three paintings are so perfectly placed, it is as if they belong right here. I cannot imagine them ever finding a better home. This space is perfect.
The third room contains three of Monet’s giant water lilies paintings. But the room contains a number of Rodin’s statues as well – that is the genius of this room. I don’t know whose idea it was to drop five Rodins in among three Monets, but the effect is unique. I can sit on the seat provided and stare at the Monets or Rodins, or walk around the room and study the works from various vantage points. I even kneel next to Rodin’s “Martyr” and stare into her dead eyes:
I get up close to a Monet:
until the painting is no longer in focus,
and then I study the Monets while looking over the shoulder of a Rodin:
One can imagine having a small group of students here, and have them explore the various viewpoints. Even better is to have the room to oneself on a sunny Friday morning.